Is It ADHD or ODD?

At some point during childhood, most kids act up and have trouble paying attention. Especially when they’re young. But for some, it’s more than that. If their behavior starts to affect their daily life and growth, it could mean they have a problem with how their brain is growing, which is called a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Two of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in kids are attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). If your child has one of these disorders, he can have trouble controlling his impulses, paying attention, listening, and getting along with other kids. These problems can disrupt his school and social life.

ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder often go hand-in-hand. About half of kids who have ADHD also have some other condition, and often it’s oppositional defiant disorder. But how do you know if he has one or the other?

Talk to your doctor and let her make the diagnosis. Don’t try to figure it out on your own. She’s trained to know the difference. But you should also look out for the signs and symptoms so you know what to tell her when you make that visit.


Not long ago, we didn’t understand why many children “misbehaved” or didn’t pay attention in school. But now we know that some of these problems can be caused by ADHD.

The “attention-deficit” part of ADHD can make kids:

  • Unfocused and easily distracted
  • Disorganized and forgetful
  • Unable to follow through on instructions
  • Appear not to listen

The “hyperactivity” part causes:

  • Fidgeting and squirming
  • Running and climbing instead of sitting
  • Inability to take turns and wait in line
  • Constant talking and interrupting
  • Inability to play quietly

Your doctor probably won’t suggest an ADHD evaluation before age 4. Things like lack of attention span and not sitting still are part of normal development in children younger than that. Language delays at a young age can also be mistaken for ADHD. She won’t make a firm diagnosis of ADHD until your child’s symptoms are worse than what is age-appropriate.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Unlike kids with ADHD, those who have oppositional defiant disorder don’t just have a hard time listening, paying attention, and following rules. They also are often angry and defiant, and tend to argue, fight, and disobey.

Signs of oppositional defiant disorder include:

  • Temper tantrums
  • Refusing to obey rules and arguing with adults
  • Intentionally annoying people, but also getting annoyed easily
  • Saying mean things, talking about getting revenge, and hurting people
  • Trying to blame others for things they do

Like ADHD, your doctor will also probably wait until your child is at least 4 to diagnose oppositional defiant disorder. This kind of behavior can be “normal” at 2 or 3 years old, but it becomes a problem if it continues as your child gets older. She’ll want to wait to make a firm diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder until your child’s behavior is more extreme than what is age-appropriate.

You should call your doctor if you notice your child acts this way around at least one person, other than a sibling, for at least 6 months. Especially if it’s affecting his schoolwork and your home life.

About two-thirds of kids with oppositional defiant disorder get better within 3 years. But without the right treatment, it can become more serious. That’s why it’s important for your doctor to screen your child for both ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder, as well as all the other conditions that could go along with them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on October 22, 2019



CDC: “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.”

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: “ODD: A Guide for Families.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).”

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: “Oppositional Defiant Disorder,” “Oppositional Defiant Disorder Resource Center: Frequently Asked Questions.”

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